The Flaws of Apple's iMessage - New York Times (blog)

When a good cellular or WiFi connection isn’t available, iMessages are delivered as text messages — you can tell the difference because text bubbles within the app are green and iMessage bubbles are blue.AppleWhen a good cellular or WiFi connection isn’t available, iMessages are delivered as text messages — you can tell the difference because text bubbles within the app are green and iMessage bubbles are blue.

[ Editor's note: The columnist of this Bits post responded to several reader comments about iMessage. ]

If you have ever sent a text message on an iPhone, chances are good that you’ve encountered iMessage, Apple’s version of a WhatsApp-style messaging app.

The service provides free messaging with other Apple users who have iOS devices or Macs running iMessage. It adds some minor functionality over regular text messaging, like notifications that someone is typing a note, and it saves on texting costs if you have a limited plan. When a good cellular or WiFi connection isn’t available, iMessages are delivered as text messages — you can tell the difference because text bubbles within the app are green and iMessage bubbles are blue.

Because the service comes installed on iPhones, and in my experience is turned on by default, it is hugely popular. But iMessage is flawed in so many ways — and has been for years — that users should be wary about using it, especially because there are many good alternative services.

The latest iMessage complaint is a legal one. A class-action lawsuit in California claims Apple violates the law by failing to deliver messages when an iPhone user switches to a new, non-iPhone device.

The lawsuit says Apple illegally interferes with people’s wireless service contracts and punishes users from leaving iPhone for Android or other platforms.

Whether Apple’s behavior violates any laws remains to be determined. But iMessage takes over your messaging, by moving the data you send through Apple’s servers instead of your mobile carrier network. And when you switch away from an iPhone, messages that other iMessage users try to send you can get caught in transit and disappear for weeks.

The disappearing text problem has been a known issue since 2011, when forum complaints first began appearing. Apple now has a few support articles on the topic, including one updated in May that provides some instructions on how to deactivate iMessage and “deregister” your phone number from iMessage.

Amber Johnson, an esthetician in Oakland, recently switched from an iPhone to a Galaxy S5. She promptly got caught in what Adam Pash, a former editor of the popular how-to website Lifehacker, calls iMessage purgatory.

After switching phones, Ms. Johnson starting receiving emails from fuming customers, who were asking why she wasn’t answering their text and whether they had somehow offended her. She said she believed the problem most likely cost her hundreds of dollars in client work.

To fix the problem — permanently, she hopes — she spent several hours on the phone with Verizon, and then Apple. Her issue was resolved only when Apple support sent her a code that was then used to unregister her from the iMessage servers.

Since the lawsuit was filed, Apple has issued one software update, meant to patch a problem with the company’s servers that made it difficult for Apple support representatives to help some users having trouble with iMessage.

In an email, Apple said it had an additional bug fix in a future software update. “If a customer switches to a non-Apple device,” the company said, “he can leave iMessage by turning off iMessage on the iPhone and uncheck the phone number from other Apple devices.”

When using iMessages, messaging is intertwined with texting on iPhones and, in my experience, is almost always turned on by default on a new device. (When I updated from iOS 6 to iOS 7, in fact, it was re-enabled for me.) Even if you plan to stick with an iPhone forever, though, there are better messaging tools than iMessage.

For one thing, iMessage is unreliable: users report social anxiety because they don’t receive timely responses to their messages. One user told me that every time she turns her iPhone off and then back on, a flood of iMessages pour in (and she feels loved again).

In addition, messages sent through the service get spread too far. They pop up on any device where you’re signed into your Apple account. That can be handy, but if you have an iPad that your children like to use and you’re signed into your Apple account, your private messages could easily end up read by the wrong eyes.

There is also some doubt that iMessages are secure. Apple says that the service is secure, and has said in the past that the messages are encrypted end-to-end during transmission. But security researchers have pointed out that Apple holds the key to that encryption and can presumably read messages anytime it wants.

The company stores messages on its servers for an unknown amount of time. When you get a new Apple device, your messages pop up when you sync with iCloud. The company released some details about iMessage security in February.

There are too many alternative messaging systems now to keep using iMessage. Try WhatsApp, SnapChat or Facebook Messenger. Or try BBM — formerly known as BlackBerry Messenger — whose fans are devoted and convinced of its unshakeable security. BBM can do everything iMessage can do, but without ever touching your text messages.

If you want to turn off iMessages, go to Settings on your iPhone, scroll down to Messaging, and toggle the button next to iMessage to “off.”

The great sin of iMessage is that it interferes with messaging that already works, and you barely know it’s happening. Texting might still cost more than it should, but texting is texting and messaging is messaging. There’s no reason to mix the two.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 29, 2014

An earlier version of this post contained several errors.

The iMessage app was released after WhatsApp, not before.

Users can send iMessages over Wi-Fi and over cell networks, not only over Wi-Fi. Messages are sometimes sent as text messages, for example when there is a poor cell connection, not necessarily because Wi-Fi is unavailable.

Apple provided information about the encryption it uses for iMessage in February 2014; it is not the case that Apple has not provided any details about the encryption.

via apple - Google News


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